Tucker’s Birthday

It took me three tries to open my locker, the hinges deserved a good oiling. Getting ready for work was becoming a laborious routine. Everyday, my locker door became more stubborn and refused to budge with normal force. When I finally got the bastard to open, I was normally greeted by the putrid smell of my work gloves. Not this time. My eyebrows gently lifted as I caught a whiff of something else, something sweet. I threw on half a smile and excitedly searched my locker for the source of the delightful scent. A bouquet of perfumed flowers were hidden behind my hardhat. I reached deep into my locker and carefully pulled them out. They were irises, the state flower of Tennessee.

I never kept my locker locked, and it happened to be my birthday. The irises had to be a gift from someone. I was always the first man in the locker room and the first worker on the floor, so whoever gave me these flowers had to be at the plant already. That leaves the girls and Roland the security guard. Roland was a hairy fat ass who loved to pick on me. He gave me spontaneous painful back massages and threw baby carrots at me from his balcony window. Everyone thought Roland was a dick, except for his girlfriend. Her name was Ally Ringer and she was our plant manager. Ally was in her early forties and she had been through a number of failed relationships. She was the only reason Roland had a job.

There was a chance Roland planted the flowers as a joke, but I didn’t want to think that was true. I let out a sigh and sat on the wooden bench in the middle of the room. The flowers were by my side. Marco, a new guy who worked on conveyor six, entered the locker room while sneezing. I nodded at him and he responded with a smile. Marco wiped some spit from the corner of his mouth and began to change into his work clothes. I started changing as well. Before I donned my hardhat and face mask, I had to take care of the irises. I forced the stems into my water bottle, and placed the flowers on top of my locker where no one could reach them. Once I was all suited up, I slowly walked towards the door while keeping my eyes on Marco. I was expecting a happy birthday, but I never got one.

Three girls had punched in before me. Ally was the first, then Darla and Robin; two sisters from Memphis. Robin was a cute red head with a rough yet sexy voice. I often thought she had a thing for me. She would sit with me during lunch and always offered to drive me home after work. It would make sense if she was the one who put the flowers in my locker. She probably knew it was my birthday. I instantly felt relieved by this thought. Maybe this was the next step in our relationship. My heart began to heat up a little. I had to ask her during lunch.

I got to my work station at conveyor one and waited for Ally to flip the switches. All the other workers had finally arrived. They were chatting, sipping coffee and staring at the unloading bays. The conveyor belts started up and the bay doors slowly opened. A loud beep ordered us to ready our hands. I took a deep breath and waited for the smell. My fingers were moving at incredible speeds; picking up dead batteries, used light bulbs, orange peels and other non-recyclables. My job required a hell of a lot of skill. You needed cheetah-like reflexes and superb concentration. I always kept my hands ready to snatch up something an idiot though he could recycle. After pulling a green diaper and a toothbrush, I caught hold of a heavy object wrapped in an empty potato chip bag. I briefly stopped sorting and placed the bag by my feet. No one seemed to notice my discovery. It was rare to find something of value while picking through garbage. A couple years back, I found a coin bank that brought me seventeen bucks. Everyone working on the floor had found something interesting.

During my lunch break, instead of meeting with Robin, I decided to check out my find. Without being seen, I grabbed the bag and slipped into the bathroom. Luckily it was empty. I filed into the last stall. After taking a quick piss, I sat on the toilet and removed the object from the bag. It was a beautifully detailed pistol. The barrel was short, smooth and foldable. It was like something you would find in a museum. The entire body appeared to be silver, or some sort precious metal. It had to be worth something.

I didn’t feel comfortable carrying a gun around in my pocket. There was no perfect place to conceal it. All I had to do was safely transport it from the bathroom to my locker, in less than five minutes. The second shift was about to start. I packed the pistol into my waist, like in the movies, and played it cool. I started to wash my hands when Roland strolled into the bathroom.

“Tucker, what’s up?” He asked with a stupid grin on his face. Roland’s breath reeked of cheese puffs and booze.

“Nothing really. Just getting ready for the second shift.” I responded trying to avoid eye contact. Roland maintained his grin and walked over to me. He stretched out his arms and prepared to give me a violent neck massage. I pushed his arms away and rushed out the door. He was always drunk on the job, and Ally was totally oblivious to this.

I could hear Roland’s dopey laughter following me. Lunch was about to end in three minutes. I hustled to the locker room, holding the gun in place from the outside of my khakis. Roland’s laughter eventually died out. As I approached the locker room, I made sure to slow down and quickly scan the inside. It was empty. I stepped up to my locker and began tugging at the door. Footsteps approached me from behind. It was Roland.

“Shouldn’t you be at your station?” He asked this time with a straight face. Sweat began to bead up around my neck, but I continued to tug at my locker.

“Yeah Roland, I’m jut grabbing a fresh mask. I’ll be out in a just a second.” I smiled at him hoping to get a smile back, but he didn’t. Roland took a small step towards me. His eyes were incredibly wide.

“You need some help there? I can help, I can help. Don’t struggle.” Roland took another baby step. I put my hand up and showed him I was alright. He stood still and watched me. I lowered my shoulder and rammed the door to my locker. The force knocked me back a bit and I felt the pistol fall free from my waist. It traveled down my pants leg and wound up on the floor in plain view. Roland and I both stared at the pistol. The beep signaling the beginning of the second shift rang throughout the plant. Roland managed to somehow laugh without smiling.

“What is that? Is that a gun?” Roland placed his hand on his holster. I never thought Roland would have to use his gun in the plant. He crunched his neck with his shoulders and waited for a response.

“Take it easy Roland.” I reached for the sky. “It’s not loaded and I don’t think it works either. I found it while I was working today. Just relax.” We were both frozen until Roland finally broke the ice.

“Hey Tucker I was only kidding. Put your arms down, I understand. Just put that thing away and we’ll have no problems.” I stared at Roland with confusion. He looked totally serious.

“Wow, thanks.” I let out a sigh of relief and lowered my hands.

“No problem. I can’t rat a man out on his birthday. This is your day, and it should be worry free.” Roland saluted me and left the locker room without me saying another word. I couldn’t believe what just happened. My shirt was covered in sweat marks and I pissed myself just a bit. I leaned down and picked up the pistol off the floor. There was no time to find a better hiding spot. I stashed the gun in the back of my locker, slammed the door shut and ran back to work.

I could see Roland’s boots from where I was sorting. He always stuck his feet out of his balcony window. I could also see Ally’s office from where I stood. Every once in a while, she would part her shades and check on us. I was distracted and missing tons of garbage. Everything was moving too fast for me. My hands were trembling and I was out of my groove. I took another quick look at Roland’s perch. His boots were no longer visible.

I made it through the final shift alive. My head was killing me and it took about five minutes for my vision to return to normal. I kept my head down to avoid social contact with my coworkers, and worked my back to the locker room. The room was packed. I firmly grasped the handle to my locker and pulled it with full force. It swung open and slammed me in the face. A couple of guys laughed at me and continued changing. My hinges had been loosened. It now opened and closed with relative ease. Luckily, the pistol was still there. It wasn’t exactly where I had it before. Someone moved it.

I sat around and waited for everyone to leave the locker room. Once everyone was gone, I hid the pistol in my backpack. I felt around the top of my locker in search of the irises, but found nothing. This didn’t really bother me but it was annoying that I needed to buy a new water bottle.

After changing, I swung my backpack over my shoulder and walked out. Roland was waiting for me outside.

“There he is! Birthday boy! Are you ready to party?” Roland was wearing a paper birthday cap and had a mini horn between his lips. The toot of the horn rang throughout the empty plant. Another horn sound came from above. It was Ally, she was sticking her head out her window.

“Tell Tucker the great news!” She yelled. Roland pulled out a mini bottle of champagne from his back pocket. He popped the bottle with one hand, took a big swig then did a little dance.

“Tucker! We’re having a party for you buddy! A party in your name, right? Are you ready to…Let’s go!” Roland spat out a mouth full of champagne foam and offered me a sip from the bottle. I declined.

“Guys. You shouldn’t have.” I turned around and saw Ally standing behind me.

“Surprise!” She barked in my face. Her breath was even harsher than Roland’s. Ally pulled out her car keys and dangled them in my face. “Party at my house! Lots of people coming and you should too! Come on Tuck! We’re hosting your birthday bash.”

“I can’t go guys, I’m way too tired.” I distanced myself from Roland and Ally. They continued to laugh and pass around the mini bottle. Ally stumbled up to me and kissed me on the lips. Roland just laughed like an idiot.

“It’ll be fun.” Ally burped into my ear. Roland skipped over to me and Ally. He threw his arm around my waist and picked me up off the floor. Their laughter got louder as they transported me to the parking lot. I gave in, maybe I would have a good time at this party.

Ally gave me her keys and asked me to drive. Roland provided horrible drunken instructions to the apparent party address. We got lost a few times, but we eventually made it. It was your typical suburban Chattanooga house. No lights were on inside, not even the garage door had a light. I turned off the car and gave the keys back to Ally. She kissed me again and tickled me out of the car. Roland killed the mini champagne and smashed the bottle onto the street. I felt uneasy. There was nothing worse than hanging out with drunks, especially when your not drunk yourself.

I had no idea where I was, but I knew it was time to party. Ally and Roland pushed me towards the front door of the house and told me to open it. I twisted the handle and stepped foot inside. Ally and Roland were now dead silent. The house with pitch black. My heart began to pound. Roland pushed me into the house and Ally shut the door behind us. The lights came on. Marco was standing in front of me with a shovel. Roland grabbed my shoulder and turned me around.

“That gun you got there. It’s worth a lot of fucking money.” Roland almost seemed sober. I stared into his eyes and tried not to look scared.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Well. I went into your locker and took a better look at it. It’s a French naval pistol from the eighteen hundreds. I looked it up.” Roland was serious. He didn’t blink once. “It’s worth over ten grand.”

“So what? Are you going to take it from me? What is Marco doing here? Where’s the party at?” I tried laughing, but my throat was incredibly dry. Ally grabbed me by the chin and pulled my head towards her.

“Your damn right were taking it!” Ally’s face turned red and she slapped me. I kicked Ally in the stomach and elbowed Roland in the ear. Marco took his shovel and whacked me in the knee. I fell to the ground and screamed. Then he struck me on the other knee. I tried to shield myself as best as I could. Ally pounced on me like a tiger and tore off my backpack. Roland stood over me and wrapped his arm around my neck. He began dragging me outside. Marco followed. I tried to bite Roland’s arm, but he was wearing a thick coat. He hauled me to the street. I begged Roland and Marco to stop and let me go, but they were in attack mode. Marco opened the trunk to Ally’s car and then went for my feet.

“Get in there.” Marco uttered quietly. I kicked at his hands. Roland tightened his arm around my neck, now I was losing consciousness. Marco lit a cigarette in front of my face and felt around the trunk of the car. He pulled out my irises.

“These are mine now. No, wait, actually you can have them back.” Marco rubbed the irises into my face and finally got a hold of my feet. Roland and Marco threw me into the trunk of the car. Before I would escape, they slammed it shut. It sounded just like the door to my locker.

Callum Shaw, Age 17, Grade 12, Saint Ann’s School, Silver Key

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